Health & Medical

‘My entire scalp was on fire’: A doctor repeatedly insisted she had a tension headache. Something more serious was going on. – The Washington Post

‘My entire scalp was on fire’: A doctor repeatedly insisted she had a tension headache. Something more serious was going on. – The Washington Post

Sandra G. Boodman Medical reporter and creator of the monthly Medical Mysteries column August 10 at 11:00 AM Galen Warden was lying in a hot bath after a punishing week at her demanding marketing job. Her neck and shoulders were, as usual, in knots, so Warden thought she’d expedite the relaxation that a restorative soak…

Sandra G. Boodman

Scientific reporter and creator of the monthly Scientific Mysteries column

Galen Warden became mendacity in a scorching bath after a punishing week at her demanding advertising and marketing job. Her neck and shoulders had been, as traditional, in knots, so Warden conception she’d expedite the comfort that a restorative soak in total delivered by sliding under the water.

When she sat up about 30 seconds later, Warden recalled, “it felt fancy my complete scalp became on hearth.” Her face, neck and shoulders had been unaffected, however her scalp felt as though it had been doused with acid.

It would possibly per chance per chance well grab as regards to three months sooner than the reason insensible Warden’s out of the ordinary symptom, which became many cases attributed to a stress headache, became published. For the interval of that time, the emergence of different indicators failed to instructed the specialist treating her to reconsider her preliminary diagnosis.

If the rest, the unique concerns looked to harden the doctor’s conviction that Warden’s mission became stress-connected.

Having a seek encourage, Warden acknowledged she is struck by what she characterizes as her medical naivete.

“It has been a cautionary fable for my guests,” she acknowledged. “I will be succesful to’t judge I kept going encourage to a nicely that became dry.”



Galen Warden’s fiery scalp and day-to-day fever had been indicators of an out of the ordinary illness that had affected her sister. (Mary Boykin)

A stress headache

Vastly stunned by the fiery sensation engulfing her scalp, Warden grew to grow to be on the bathe and ran wintry water over her head, frantically attempting to take into account of what would possibly per chance per chance need caused it. She hadn’t rubbed her scalp hard or aged a particular shampoo or bath product.

As she gingerly dried her hair, the Fifty three-one year-veteran tried now to not anguish. She popped two over-the-counter difficulty relievers and after they didn’t support, added a third. The difficulty lifted.

However as soon as the medication wore off, the difficulty returned.

On Monday, May per chance presumably impartial 31, 2010, Warden, who became residing in Morris County, N.J., seen her internist. He suggested her to ogle a neurologist, however told her he didn’t beget one to imply.

Per week later, Warden seen a neurologist she stumbled on whose office became shut to her house. The doctor performed a speedy exam — tapping her knee with a hammer, inspecting her pupils and having Warden touch her nose — a apply she would repeat at each and every confer with. Then she told Warden she became tormented by a classic stress headache.

“I attempted to display that it wasn’t inside my head, it became in fact my scalp that hurt,” Warden remembered. She told the doctor that any sudden movement, or simply touching the head of her head, intensified the difficulty.

The doctor reiterated the stress headache diagnosis. She suggested Warden to grab a couple of days off from work to rest and meditate. She moreover prescribed Xanax, a potentially addictive anti-dismay drug.

Warden did what the doctor urged. However the most appealing thing that relieved the ferocious difficulty became the utmost dose of nonprescription difficulty relievers she continued to gobble around the clock.

At her next appointment a couple of weeks later, the doctor told Warden that a stronger drug would per chance be needed to interrupt the cycle of difficulty: per week-long route of methylprednisolone, a corticosteroid that reduces inflammation.

“It worked fancy a miracle,” Warden acknowledged. However as she tapered the dose as suggested, the scalp difficulty returned. “I could per chance per chance barely brush my hair,” she recalled.

For the interval of her third confer with, the neurologist told Warden that prednisone became too volatile to grab for longer than per week. The doctor prescribed indomethacin, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory aged to address arthritis.

Warden acknowledged she took the drug faithfully. “There became zero development,” she acknowledged.

By mid-July, Warden had developed two unique concerns: a day-to-day low-grade fever that began gradual in the afternoon and left her feeling worn out to boot to popular tenderness.

“If someone squeezed my arm,” Warden recalled, the set would hurt for loads of minutes, even when there became no visible bruise.

Unable to invent it by a day with out a maximum dose of difficulty relievers, Warden puzzled how long she would possibly per chance per chance — or would possibly per chance per chance smooth — withhold taking them.

She acknowledged she told the neurologist that she insecure that something famous became disagreeable. The doctor, she acknowledged, spoke back that the physique aches and fever weren’t connected to her scalp difficulty, which she insisted became a stress headache.

Per chance, the neurologist urged, a migraine drug would possibly per chance per chance presumably work. The specialist prescribed a potent epilepsy drug known as Topomax, which is moreover accredited to address migraines.

The drug didn’t support. After a couple of days, Warden stopped taking it.

On the time, Warden acknowledged, she became pondering about preparing for a four-day national gross sales assembly she became required to support in connection along with her job at a world agency. By hook or by crook, she acknowledged, she made it by the assembly.

However as her flight house landed in Newark, Warden developed a brand unique mission: difficulty in her temples so appealing it as regards to knocked her out of her seat. The difficulty, which vanished like a flash, recurred loads of cases day to day.

“I started to are residing in fear that it became going to strike at any 2d,” she recalled.

At an appointment in early August, Warden told the neurologist regarding the knifelike browdifficulty. The doctor repeated the same outdated speedy neuro take a look at, which became traditional. She told Warden the unique difficulty became a variant of a stress headache and wasn’t obvious what extra she would possibly per chance per chance enact.

“I particular I became performed along with her,” acknowledged Warden, adding that she became undecided of where to flip. A pair of days later, she returned to her internist. Sitting on his exam room table, she burst into tears. She told her longtime doctor that she became planning to head to an emergency room for support — it became the most appealing thing she would possibly per chance per chance bring to mind.

The internist tried to peaceful her and told her he would possibly per chance per chance bring to mind easiest one illness that can per chance per chance presumably trigger her indicators and the pattern steroids equipped: wide cell arteritis.

A disorder that causes inflammation of the arteries, frequently in the scalp or neck, wide cell arteritis inhibits blood stride and is believed of as a medical emergency; without instructed medication it will trigger permanent blindness. It is extra total in ladies folk and customarily occurs after age 50 and ceaselessly along with polymyalgia rheumatica, an inflammatory disorder that causes muscle stiffness in the hips or shoulders.

The internist prescribed one more week of steroids. (Giant cell arteritis is mostly treated with steroids for months.) Inside of hours the temple difficulty and fiery scalp vanished, easiest to recur as soon as the dose became tapered.

When Warden returned to the internist, he refused to prescribe a longer route of steroids, announcing the drug became too volatile. Confirming the diagnosis of wide cell arteritis, he told her, meant performing a biopsy of the temporal artery, which he wasn’t obvious became famous.

Warden determined to return to the doctor she relied on most: the gynecologic oncologist who three years earlier had treated her for cervical most cancers.

He listened to her story, then ordered a plump-physique CT scan.

Most cancers again?

The brain scan published nothing out of the ordinary. However the chest scan confirmed a lesion and diverse enlarged lymph nodes.

The oncologist told Warden that she would possibly per chance per chance need developed lymphoma, a most cancers though-provoking the immune machine. The radiologist urged an equally grim likelihood: lung most cancers.

The oncologist known as a thoracic surgeon to field up an appointment for Warden. Because she had recently taken steroids, a lymph node biopsy very famous in making a diagnosis would must be delayed for loads of weeks.

Warden remembers feeling afraid that she would must address most cancers again.

However the thoracic surgeon, whom she seen in September, mentioned a third likelihood: sarcoidosis.

An out of the ordinary illness marked by the proliferation of small collections of inflammatory cells known as granulomas, sarcoidosis in most cases affects the lungs and lymph nodes however can occur any place in the physique. Its trigger is unknown, even when some researchers judge it’s autoimmune in foundation. (Two of Warden’s six adult early life were identified with famous autoimmune ailments.)

Sarcoidosis tends to bustle in households and affects extra ladies folk than men. Those of African or Northern European descent beget a bigger incidence of the illness, which has no cure.

The biopsy of Warden’s lymph nodes confirmed that they contained granulomas and not, to her huge reduction, malignant cells.

Warden became accustomed to sarcoidosis. Her sister had been identified with pulmonary sarcoidosis, the most total form, years earlier. After loads of years of medication, the illness had disappeared, as is in total the case. However in other of us sarcoidosis becomes a chronic illness affecting extra than one organs, along with the eyes, heart and liver.

The thoracic surgeon referred Warden to rheumatologist Vandana Singh for confirmation and medicine.

“She had the chest inflammation we in most cases respect with sarcoidosis,” acknowledged Singh, who’s chief of the division of rheumatology at Morristown Scientific Heart. However Warden’s preliminary symptom — scalp difficulty — is “very out of the ordinary. I’ve never seen one more patient with it,” added Singh, who estimates that she has treated 80 of us with sarcoidosis.

However, she acknowledged, Warden did not beget wide cell arteritis. “That became a crimson herring.”

Singh, who treated Warden until she moved to South Carolina in 2016, acknowledged she doesn’t know why the neurologist identified a stress headache.

“It doesn’t seek neurological,” she acknowledged.

Lesson realized

In mutter to manipulate Warden’s illness, Singh prescribed excessive doses of prednisone for six months, which proved effective.

For the previous few years, Warden, whose illness has unfold to her liver and is believed of as chronic and systemic, has given herself weekly injections of a tiny dose of methotrexate, a drug frequently aged to address most cancers and rheumatoid arthritis. She moreover takes gabapentin, a medicines that can blunt nerve difficulty.

Warden acknowledged her experience taught her the significance of pushing for solutions and dumping a doctor who seems neither a expert nor . She tests doctors’ credentials and favors physicians who moreover inform because she has stumbled on them to be “extra queer and dedicated to discovering solutions.”

Warden acknowledged she employed these skills in the years after her diagnosis when two of her sons had been grappling with out of the ordinary ailments.

“As quickly as I will be succesful to repeat someone just just isn’t helping, I originate asking rather loads of questions,” she acknowledged. “And if a doctor doesn’t know and doesn’t must know, I transfer on.”

Put up your solved medical thriller to sandra.boodman@washpost.com. No unsolved cases, please. Read outdated mysteries at wapo.st/medicalmysteries.

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